Mississippi Fred McDowell
Mississippi Fred McDowell played acoustic slide blues with a resonance and intensity of feeling rarely matched in recorded music. A rich tone sets the slow-rollin' foundation for sharp, lyrical phrases and baying vocals. Although he's working solo, it often sounds like there are three different people playing the song. The few electric recordings McDowell made are supersonic: he slashes at the guitar with unrestrained power, emitting sparks and riffs that seem to buzz over your head and split off in a thousand directions. His material was often religiously tortured in a Robert Johnson vein, not quite as hopeless as Johnson's lamentations, but often just as haunted, with redemption seemingly paid for with lifelong agony. Songs "Jesus on the Mainline" and "When I Lay My Burden Down" sound less like the joyous praise songs they were meant to be, and more like desperate bids for salvation. The complex battle between one's desires and one's beliefs is a bottom-line issue for most of humanity, and to hear the struggle expressed with such passion and primal beauty is moving, if not scary as hell.